Moral of Bangladesh’s Sec­u­lar Mor­tal­ity

The Economic Times - - Breaking Ideas -

Since Jan­uary 2013, 35 sec­u­lar writ­ers, blog­gers, pro­fes­sors, mem­bers of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties and for­eign­ers have been bru­tally mur­dered in Bangladesh. Though Al-Qaeda and the Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for 23 of them, the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment re­fuses to ac­cept the role of the transna­tional Is­lamist ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions and, in­stead, blames do­mes­tic groups.

Its sec­u­lar cre­den­tials notwith­stand­ing, the Sheikh Hasi­naled rul­ing Awami League has since 2013 made com­pro­mises with Is­lamist groups. It res­ur­rected the ob­scu­ran­tist He­fazate-Is­lam, to tackle Is­lamist groups close to Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Na­tional Party and its ally Ja­maat-e-Is­lami. The loss of moral le­git­i­macy fol­low­ing the 2014 elec­tions, boy­cotted by the op­po­si­tion, in­creased the gov­ern­ment’s re­liance on force and Is­lamists. Even the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to the mur­ders changed: it dropped public con­dem­na­tion, sug­gested re­straint in demo­cratic re­ac­tion to the killings. The role of re­li­gion in pol­i­tics and public sphere is an un­set­tled is­sue in Bangladesh. Blame a shrink­ing demo­cratic space, crack­down on the op­po­si­tion and ac­com­mo­da­tion with Is­lamic groups for resur­gence of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist groups, and in­creased re­cruit­ments by transna­tional ter­ror­ist groups. There is grow­ing ev­i­dence that AlQaeda and ISIS are ac­tive in Bangladesh and step­ping up their re­cruit­ment drives. The Bangladesh gov­ern­ment’s wil­ful blind­ness poses a dan­ger for it­self, and for In­dia.

In­dia will do well to re­in­force, from Bangladesh’s experience, the lessons to be learnt from its own past on the dan­gers of mak­ing peace with re­li­gious rad­i­cal­ism of any hue. All ac­com­mo­da­tion with forces in­im­i­cal to norms of lib­eral democ­racy grows into an ever-large threat to democ­racy it­self.

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